David Motton
Tow Car Editor

See other tow car reviews written by David Motton

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is still Britain's favourite plug-in hybrid vehicle. But how well does the PHEV cope with towing?

Overview

Mitsubishi hasn't been resting on its laurels. The latest PHEV model has an uprated petrol engine, greater battery capacity and a more powerful electric motor at the rear. The changes contribute to an all-electric range of 28 miles (tested to the WLTP standard), which is enough for many drivers to complete a daily commute without using petrol power at all.

We know that the Mitsubishi is a tax-efficient choice for a company car driver and promises low running costs. But towing places heavy demands on the car's engine, motors and transmission. How well does the PHEV cope?

Towing

The electric motors and battery contribute to a high kerbweight: the Outlander weighs 1955kg (including 77kg for the driver, not included in Mitsubishi's published kerbweight). However, the legal towing limit of 1500kg is relatively low for a car of this size and weight, and rules out towing a caravan weighing 85% of the Outlander's kerbweight.

We matched the PHEV to a Swift Fairway Platinum with a Mass in Running Order of 1444kg. We set off with a fully charged battery, and for the first few miles, driven at low speeds the car towed using battery power alone.

Accelerating up to A-road speeds woke the petrol engine up, and the harsh sound under full acceleration was an unwelcome contrast to the quiet of driving with electric power alone.

The Outlander had no trouble reaching 60mph, but it doesn't have as much punch as a Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4.

As our test drive went on, the battery levels gradually depleted. The car partially recharges when coasting or braking, and can even use the petrol engine as a generator to top up the battery. For most of our test drive, though, the display showing the battery-powered range indicated zero or one mile.

After several miles of towing, we tried a hill start. The electronic parking brake held the car and caravan securely but, with little electrical assistance when pulling away, the car was very laboured up the 1-in-10 slope, with lots of noise from under the bonnet. Hilly roads, similarly, don't show the Outlander at its best.

The PHEV tows better on the motorway, where the engine can settle down. Revised suspension settings give the Outlander a tauter feel than before, but it still moves around in crosswinds more than the best SUVs. The driver needs to make more steering corrections than would be needed while towing with a BMW X3 or a Jaguar F-Pace.

Arrive at your campsite, and manoeuvring is easy enough. And if your pitch is damp or muddy, you'll be glad the Outlander PHEV can be driven as a four-wheel drive, thanks to electric motors front and rear.

Our 4hs spec test car has a 360-degree camera system which gives a good view around the car. The rear-view camera in particular, is a great help when hitching up.

The towball and electrics are neatly installed, although the electrics are some way under the bumper. The maximum noseweight is just 75kg - on the low side for a car of this size and weight - so careful caravan loading will be needed to avoid exceeding it.

On main roads, preferably with a fully charged battery, the Outlander tows acceptably. But the noisy engine, poor hill start, and indifferent stability count against it.

Everyday driving

The Outlander is easy to live with in everyday driving. Just as while towing, it's at its best when the batteries have plenty of charge.

It's possible to accelerate quite briskly using electric power alone without the extra weight of a caravan. Driving around town with nothing more than a gentle hum from the electric drivetrain is a relaxing way to travel.

When the engine does contribute to forward progress, it's generally less intrusive than when towing as it doesn't need to work as hard. At motorway speeds, it's more likely that road noise rather than the sound of the engine will disturb the peace of the cabin.

As part of the most recent revisions to the PHEV, Mitsubishi revised the suspension set-up. The ride is more composed than before but you can still hear as well as feel sharp bumps in the road.

On country lanes, the Outlander handles neatly enough but the steering is light and numb. It's not the kind of car that encourages you to take the long way home just for the fun of it. But at its best the Outlander is a quiet, comfortable and pleasant way of getting from A to B.

Space

The PHEV has plenty of room for people, although boot space is not so generous. In the front of the car there's plenty of headroom. Legroom should be sufficient for drivers of most shapes and sizes, although a little more rearward travel for the driver's seat might have made life easier for our tallest tester (six feet six inches).

There's plenty of room in the back of the car, with more than enough leg and headroom for adults to travel in comfort.

Boot space is compromised slightly by the need to find room for all the hybrid components. It means the boot floor is quite high, so there's not much height between the floor and the luggage cover. The capacity of 463 litres is modest for a car of this size. There is a little space under the floor, but that's really intended for the charging leads.

The rear seats split and fold 60/40 to extend the luggage space, although you'll have to tip the bases forward before the seat backs will lie flat. With the seats folded, the capacity increases to a useful 1602 litres. However, that's much less than a Škoda Kodiaq's 2065 litres.

So, a practical car by plug-in hybrid standards. But there are more conventional SUVs that offer more space or an extra row of seats for similar money.

Running costs

The government has withdrawn its grant for plug-in hybrids, so there's no longer a four-figure contribution to reduce the asking price. Our 4hs spec car is in the middle of the range, and costs £42,020. Grant or no grant, research by our colleagues on What Car? suggests knocking thousands from that price should be possible if you haggle.

If you're a company car driver, the Outlander PHEV makes a very tax-efficient proposition. Carbon dioxide emissions of just 40g/km put the PHEV in the 16% benefit-in-kind tax bracket, which makes for a significant saving over any similarly priced diesel.

Fuel costs should be low, too. Using a home-charging unit, the batteries can be replenished in four hours. A rapid-charging point can provide an 80% charge in as little as 25 minutes, says Mitsubishi. However, high-mileage drivers won't get close to the official economy figure of 139mpg. Around 40mpg is what we've achieved on long, solo drives, unless we have time to recharge mid-journey.

Setting off with a fully charged battery, we saw 28.8mpg while towing. Reversing our journey with the battery depleted, the car still returned a reasonable 24mpg.

The Outlander PHEV is well equipped. Leather upholstery, a powered tailgate, a 360-degree camera, heated front seats and steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and a comprehensive list of driver aids are included in the price.

After three years and 36,000 miles on the road, What Car?'s used car experts predict the PHEV will be worth 40% of its original price, a relatively weak return compared with many prestige-badged SUVs.

Technical specs

Engine size2360 cc
Kerbweight1955 kg
Towball limit75 kg
Maximum towing limit1500 kg
Power133.0 bhp
Torque156.0 lb ft
Official MPG139.7 mpg
Towing MPG24 mpg
CO240 g/km

Verdict

The Outlander PHEV will suit some drivers more than others. To really get the most from it, most journeys need to be short. That way it can be driven on electric power most of the time, using very little petrol - or none.

If you are offered the PHEV by your employer, so much the better. As a company car, the low emissions make the Mitsubishi a shrewd choice, with rock-bottom tax bills compared with a similar diesel.

Of course, Vehicle Excise Duty and fuel bills will be low for private buyers, too. But the loss of the government grant for plug-in hybrid vehicles made the Outlander £3500 more expensive to buy. And with a price tag of over £40k, some very capable conventionally powered SUVs are within reach.

Mitsubishi's recent changes to the PHEV have improved the car's performance and range, and we were impressed that it still achieved 24mpg while towing with a depleted battery. But anyone covering a high-mileage, with or without a caravan, will find that an equivalent turbodiesel will return better fuel economy.

Inside, the Outlander PHEV is reasonably practical, but the design and finish are rather behind the times. And given that caravanners tend to make use of every inch of boot space when on tour, it would be useful to have more luggage room.

If you are really committed to towing with a plug-in hybrid we wouldn't talk you out of choosing the Mitsubishi, but for most caravanners a more conventional SUV will make a better tow car.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Four wheel drive option; good headroom in front and rear of car; well-equipped

Cons

  • Low legal towing limit; light steering; struggles with hill starts when towing